The Miller-Driscoll Building Committee (MDBC) met last week on Feb. 4, and notable among the action was the election of a new vice chair. Glen Hemmerle, a member of the Board of Education, was nominated and confirmed as vice chair. As of now, there is still no committee chair following the resignation of Bruce Hampson.

One thing that is staying constant, however, is the renewed emphasis on improved communication, starting with the election of Patti Temple as recording secretary, as well as the type of information disseminated at the meeting.

Chris Burney, Wilton’s director of facilities and energy management, informed the committee that one Miller-Driscoll parent, John Kohler, had retained an environmental lawyer from Washington, DC to represent him in dealing with the town regarding his concerns about the Miller-Driscoll building project.

“Late last week I received a letter, and Kevin Smith and Lynne Vanderslice were copied, from an attorney on behalf of the Kohler family, requesting information regarding the abatement program and the project—four pages of technical and legal questions that we will seek to answer; they have asked for a response by the end of March,” he explained.

He clarified that the attorney is asking for “documentation and confirmation that we are doing what we said we would, doing it in a correct way and obeying the various federal and CT statutes that they have specifically referenced.” He noted that the letter was “not accusatory.”

According to Vanderslice, the Kohler family is “seeking a level of comfort about the abatement, that everything is being done properly, and that the school is a safe environment for their child.” She added that the family has requested the answers to the questions be put online on the MDBC website, “which we have every intention of doing.”

As well, Burney told the committee that two parents have emailed with concerns about noise in the classrooms, and others have brought up a lack of daylight in classrooms where windows are boarded up. “We boarded up the windows for safety during the initial demolition phase, and at the parents meeting yesterday we told them when we felt it was safe we would remove the plywood.” He noted that if, after that, the construction outside became was a distraction, they’d put a film over the bottom half of the windows to allow light but still block the distracting view as much as possible.

Burney noted that the teachers will receive a survey to determine if the classrooms have become too noisy as a result of the construction; responses will be anonymous and results will be presented both at the next parents’ meeting as well as at the next M-D building committee meeting.

“We’ll use those results to guide us on how we deal with daylight and noise. If the teachers tell us it’s a problem, then it’s a problem. What we’ve heard from Turner Construction, who does rounds twice a day, is that the kids are totally blasé to the whole process at this point. We’d like that to continue, but we need to be aware and respond to the parents expressing legitimate complaints,” Burney said.

Construction Updates

Project manager Mike Douyard updated the committee about progress that has happened in construction. The crews have started laying concrete foundations, and the pre-K wing foundations are 80-percent complete. In addition, crews have excavated for additional foundations and underground utilities.

Douyard also gave a schedule for construction milestones, including those related to hazardous material abatement:

  • Feb. 15:  scheduled completion of Peach Core demolition
  • Feb. 12-15:  PCB removal over February Break
  • April Break:  Asbestos removal

Direct-to-Parent Communication

M-D interim principal Bernadette Hess has also been doing her part to keep communication channels open. She has posted construction pictures on Instagram that show the pre-K foundation to which Douyard referred:

Preschool in progress @miller_driscoll

A photo posted by @miller_driscoll on

Construction at Miller-Driscoll
Construction at Miller-Driscoll

Hess also sent a letter to M-D parents with updates on the progress. Her information was less technical than Douyard’s updates, but certainly more colorful, as she included samples of children’s artwork that relates to the project.

“Just as our children grow and change each day, this year our building is following suit. The Peach Core has been demolished right before our eyes. Our kindergarten students wrote about the construction and I have attached some examples for you to enjoy along with a picture of the machines at work.  The children are learning the names of the machines and they have a front row seat to watch the construction workers transform our school.”

kids' artwork 2 IMG_6367
kids' artwork IMG_6366 - 2-3-16

Even the kids are helping in getting the word out. Students taking part in the MDTV studio class interviewed Turner Construction’s site superintendent Sean Tierney after surveying their classmates to find out what students really want to know about the construction. They asked questions like, “Which machine do you use the most?” “Which machine is the strongest and what do you use it for?” “Can you still dig and build when the ground is frozen?” “How many people are working to build our school?” “What if it doesn’t come out the way you wanted it to?”

In her letter to parents, Hess details which classrooms will undergo asbestos abatement and explains in detail what the process will be, including an honest description of the disruption:

Over April break, five classrooms will undergo asbestos abatement. The classrooms are N1- Ms. Tripaldi’s, N12- OT/PT Ms. Dommu, Ms. Heckt, N16- Reading Room Ms. Devivo, Ms. Ferguson, Ms. Ritch, N17- Ms. Cook, N18- Tech Lab Mr. Jenkins, Ms. Conte and LN4- Mr. Dempsey. Everything will be packed up, removed from the classroom so the abatement can occur and finally, everything will be replaced before we return from break. We are in the process of working with Turner Construction to hire movers with the goal of minimizing disruptions. Our teachers are working together to support each other before, during and after this move.

She does the same regarding the classrooms that will be affected over the summer, to give parents some context for what they’ve heard is scheduled for summer months.

In June, every first grade classroom, both music rooms, OT/PT, Ms. Eyikan’s art room, Ms. Casl’s second grade classroom and the book storage room will pack up and move out. As you can imagine, this is quite an undertaking. Once the students leave for the summer, the number of construction workers working on the building will be in the hundreds. When all of the teachers who have moved out return to school next year, they will be in a newly renovated classroom. We have seen drawings and the rooms will be amazing. The next time you are at school, I invite you to take a look at the renderings that are hanging in the hallway across from the nurse’s office.

Hess posts to Instagram via @miller_driscoll. What’s more, there are regular updates on the Building Project Website, as well as a Building Project email address for parents and interested residents to use.

Mandi Schmauch, a M-D parent and member of the parent committee, remarked on the improved communication and the effect it was having.

“I am so impressed with the improved communication. Patti has done such a good job increasing parent communication, and I think these committee meetings are really positive. When I talk to my friends, they used to be very aggressive conversations, 2-3 months ago. Now I am able to bring them what’s really happening, and it’s really positive.”

Hemmerle jokingly referred to the challenge of stories some of the children bring home from a day at school. “The stories that 6-year-olds bring home, it has created a few issues here or there. But our challenge is to be better and smarter than a 6-year-old in terms of communicating.”